Nonclassical are bringing classical composition to London clubbing

The London label and promoters making classical music current and visceral.

Nonclassical put on club nights based around classical music. It’s a break from the restraints of the traditional concert hall venue, and a place where a predominantly younger crowd engage with performances by contemporary classical musicians in the more relaxed, and probably more familiar, environment of a club or bar.

Nonclassical is also a record label now 13 releases old, and has been putting out some pretty thrilling records of modern classical composition, the latest coming from Kazakh violinist Aisha Orazbayeva last year. This week they’re putting on their biggest club night to date, taking over east London’s XOYO for a night based around minimalism in music. We caught up briefly with Nonclassical label boss, musician, DJ and grandson of Sergei, Gabriel Prokofiev to find out more.

How did Nonclassical begin?

It all started in 2004 when I composed my first string quartet. I thought that the quartet, though it was ‘classical’ would really appeal to my friends and not just the typical classical audience; particularly because it had influences from underground dance music & electro. But I knew that my friends would never go to a traditional classical chamber concert – it just didn’t fit into their lifestyles. So it needed to be performed in a place that felt comfortable & normal to them; the obvious place was a night-club. As I’d been playing lots of electro gigs (with my old band Spektrum) at the time, and had experience promoting events, I booked Cargo in Shoreditch; and put on the first ‘Nonclassical’ night.

It worked; the crowd was all younger people and they really enjoyed the Elysian Quartet, who played the piece live. It might sound funny, but it’s really rare to get more than 10% of an audience aged under 30 at a classical concert, so it felt like a real achievement, and something with a lot of potential. The other issue that I had to deal with was what music to play before & after the String Quartet… I needed a DJ; but not one playing standard house-music or hip-hop, it wouldn’t have worked; and as I didn’t know who would do that kind of ‘classical’-friendly DJing, I had to do it myself: I played a mix of contemporary classical music with left-field electronica, and even slowed-down hip-hop beats.

Since then the club has become a monthly event (currently at Troy Bar, 10 Hoxton st) with a regular crowd, and the DJing and programming has developed a lot.

Each club-night features 2 or 3 live acts (String Quartets, Solo performers, electronics, Trios, etc…) performing several short & dynamic live sets (of about 15-20 mins). Then in between the live performances are DJ sets from myself or the other resident DJ Richard Lannoy. In our DJ sets we play a lot of remixes from the Nonclassical record label, as well as contemporary classical music, some left-field electronica, and a few older classics from composers like Stravinsky, Varese & Stockhausen.

At the same time as the Nonclassical club night emerged; I set up the Nonclassical record label; also with the same intentions of making classical music feel more ‘real-world’ and relevant. My idea was to present classical music in a ‘non’-classical way, and I was greatly inspired by independent dance music labels. One big inspiration I took from dance music was the idea of having remixes on each album. So that every Nonclassical record has original classical compositions followed by remixes of those compositions. We have now released 13 albums on Nonclassical featuring some of the most exciting performers and composers active in the UK at the moment, including Tansy Davies, The Elysian Quartet, The Heritage Orchestra, GéNIA, Consortium 5, Juice Vocal Ensemble, and some of my compositions as well.

Could you tell us about what you have planned for your night at XOYO?

The night at XOYO is going to be our biggest Nonclassical club night yet… We’re going for a format that has been discussed a lot, but rarely realised: putting live classical orchestral performances alongside a club DJ who will really get people dancing by the end of the night. The theme of the night will be minimalism, which is an area that has been deeply explored by both classical composers and dance producers, so there is a very interesting journey to be made from classical through to electronic dance music.

The night will start with live classical performances, including a full orchestral performance of John Adam’s Chamber Symphony, Adriessen’s Worker’s Union, and three seminal works by Steve Reich, there will be DJ-sets in between the live performances, climaxing in a 2 hour set from pioneering DJ J.D. Twitch from Optimo. We are hoping this event is going to be the first of many like this, with future themes such as German Electronica: programming Stockhausen alongside Kraftwerk, and German Techno.

What’s coming up from Nonclassical in the near future?

Fantastic album from uncompromising Violinist Aisha Orazbayeva has just come out on Nonclassical. Aisha had a very clear and unconventional concept for the album, which is a real breath of fresh air, and it’s certainly upset a few in the established classical world.

Out in April is the album Peter Gregson & Gabriel Prokofiev: ‘Cello Multitracks’. It is works I’ve composed for 9 Cellos, which Peter has multitracked in the studio. There are also remixes from DJ Spooky, Marcas Lancaster, and others. Plus we are releasing a single Jerk Driver, from the album in Feb/March along with a music video. This composition has some really explicit influences from underground dance music, but also strong classical references. Peter will perform two tracks from the album at XOYO on Thursday.

Finally, could you tell us your five favourite tracks to DJ?

Phew… that’s really hard to say, as the DJing I do is a lot about responding to the atmosphere in the room. Some of my favourite tracks, which always get a good response are (in no particular order):

1. Heritage Orchestra ft DJ Yoda – G Prokofiev Concerto for Turntables (Cerebral Productions Remix) [Nonclassical]
2. Alarm Will Sound – Blue Calix [Innova]
3. Mercury Quartet – Monsieur Morphée Remix [Nonclassical]
4. Consortium5 – Medasyn Brook(lyn)s Bass Remix [Nonclassical]
5. Mosolov – The Iron Foundry [unknown classical label]

Nonclassical’s Minimalism night takes place at XOYO in London on 19th January 2012. Details here

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